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The Unsung History of Evi-Edna Ogholi, Nigeria’s Queen of Reggae

Evi-Edna Ogholi is often credited as Nigeria’s first woman reggae musician who permanently changed the genre’s landscape—but her story is widely unknown.

February 28, 2020
Written by
Cynthia Schemmer

In the 1980s, during the golden age of Nigerian reggae and amidst a scene dominated by men, Evi-Edna Ogholi emerged as a superstar who was just as prolific as any of her contemporaries, if not more. She’s credited as Nigeria’s first woman reggae musician, often called  Nigeria’s “Queen of Reggae” and a master guitarist who is known for singing in her Isoko dialect. From 1987 through 1990, Ogholi released six albums (three of which went platinum), wrote one of Nigeria’s most famous songs to date, and permanently changed the landscape of Nigerian reggae.

Yet, outside of her home country, we’ve heard very little about Ogholi’s life and career. And even there, not much public documentation, aside from a few brief articles, can be found on the internet. This shortage of information could be for a variety of reasons: Maybe it was her disappearance in the 1990s, during the height of her career, when she fled to Paris with her two children to escape an abusive marriage. Or maybe, following her flight, she felt silenced out of fear. Or maybe the world just didn’t see the significance at the time—or after. As is the case with so many black women musicians throughout history, the lack of recognition has been detrimental to both black culture as well as our consummate understanding of music history.

Whatever the reasons, and despite the few facts available, Ogholi’s story is one that needs telling.

Born in Isoko, a region in the Delta State of Nigeria, in 1965, Ogholi began her music career at just 22 years old. She moved to Lagos with a demo tape in 1987, and that same year she released her debut album, My Kind of Music, on Polygram (now known as Premier). She was a maven of the guitar, and her fans called her ‘Njoku Reggae’ because she made ‘njoku, njoku’ sounds as she strummed. Around this time, she also met musician Emma Oghosi, who became her manager and producer, and eventually her husband, with whom she had two children with.

Ogholi released five more albums during this period: On The Move (1988), Happy Birthday (1988), No Place Like Home (1989), Burstin’ Loose (1990), and Step by Step (1990). By the age of 25, she was a Nigerian household name, and her first two albums, along with Step by Step, are considered her most popular releases, and reportedly went platinum.

Sparking feelings of unity and love, Ogholi’s music spoke directly to her people: “Message to the Youth” offered advice to the younger generation in Nigeria about peace and leading by example; “No Place Like Home” honors Nigeria from near and far; and her most famous song, “Happy Birthday,” is considered a Nigerian anthem and still played throughout West African at birthday celebrations today.

 “The ingredients that make my music special are melody, the message, rhythm, simplicity, and right from the very start, I don’t sing like anybody. I get inspiration from Jamaican reggae greats like Bob Marley, Sugar Minott, Dillinger, U-Roy, I-Roy, Yellow Man, and John Holt, etc. In brief, I just try to be myself, R A S T A F A R I A N-style.”

The Guardian Nigeria

Ogholi went on to tour West Africa with sponsorships from Pepsi and other big companies, entrancing audiences with her smooth vocals that oscillated between English and Isoko. However, in the late 1990s, Ogholi abruptly disappeared from music when she fled to Paris with her two children. It wasn’t until 2016 when Ogholi publicly spoke out about the abuses she faced by the hand of her ex-husband, Emma Ogosi: “I travelled out of Nigeria because of my ex-husband (Emma Ogosi). He is very VIOLENT. Emma Ogosi turned me to his PUNCHING BAG, while I was married to him.”

Today, Ogholi still lives in Paris, and has recently started performing and writing again. In 2018, she released the album Peace in the World, which incorporates jazz into her original reggae compositions. She continues to perform and tour throughout Europe and West Africa, and also volunteers for United Nations Children’s Educational Fund (UNICEF).

It is our hope with the story of Evi-Edna Ogholia, and more profiles to come, to shed a brighter light on the women in music who long deserve it. There is so much to discover out there, so many stories neglected or left out of the narrative—go beyond the history you’ve been told.

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